Sunday, April 17, 2011

Second Sunday of Passiontide (Palm Sunday)

Matthew 21:1-9 / Philippians 2:5-11 / Matthew 26:36-75; 27:1-60

Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Today we march in procession with the Lord and join in his triumphal entry into the holy city, Jerusalem. Today we hear once again that story, at once heart-breaking and heart-warming, dark and terrible in its betrayals and uplifting beyond words in divine love poured out for the sinful and unworthy through the unbearable pain of the Passion and even more terrible pains of the Cross. Today we also look back on where we have come since Ash Wednesday. We look back, and we blush in shame. Who among us has kept to the high hopes of transformation promised those many weeks ago? For whom has this Lent been an occasion to stay and watch with the Lord, making full use of every opportunity to return to him from whom we have wandered?

Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane did the Lord Jesus Christ ask his closest among the disciples, Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, the very ones whom he had graced and strengthened with the vision of his glory on Tabor in his Transfiguration, graced and strengthened for this very hour, to remain awake with him. Three times did these ones, so dear to him and he must have wished he would have been to them, fail to remain awake. What! Could you not watch one hour with Me?

What new insight was lost, what opportunity to grow in faith, hope, and charity by sharing with the Lord in his agony? With what comfort was our Lord deprived, from what occasion to draw nearer to their Lord and friend were these dear apostles bereft by their slumbering? We do not know, we cannot know the goods they, and through their failure we have lost. That there was a good intended for them, intended for us through them, we can be certain from the threefold invitation, from the pleading of a heart which might so justifiably had only its own interests to consider and dread.

Even so, Peter, James, and John receive no recrimination from Jesus. They are not chastised for their slumber. Indeed, Jesus, when he sees that they cannot remain awake, invites, perhaps even commands, that they get the rest which, even against their better selves, they have been fitfully taking during their intended vigil. Sleep ye now, says the Lord, and take your rest.

We, too, have fallen asleep when we ought to have been keeping vigil. We, too, have no doubt lost some real opportunities for growth in faith, hope, and charity this Lent in our soul's sleep when it might well have been more vigilant. Still, what is done is done. There is no turning back. Graces passed by are never offered in the same way again. The good news of this is, however, is that Jesus does not ask us to go back. He does not want us to dwell on ills of the past, on opportunities missed. Without for a moment suggesting to us that real goods have been lost, Jesus directs us, as he directed his disciples in Gethsemane, to the incomparable and inexhaustible good of his betrayal by his own people and one of his intimate friends, of his suffering at the hands of wicked and indifferent unbelievers, and his agony and death upon the Cross, undergone not simply as a result of our sins, but freely, knowingly, willingly, and even happily for the sake of sinners. That is to say, for our sake, who could not stay awake, even for one hour.

If we would make a final commitment this Holy Week, let it be to set aside whatever we have managed to accomplish or have failed to do this Lent. Whether we have been vigilant or slumbered, nothing we have done measures in any way when held against the Cross. Our successes, even as our failures, are as nothing in the awful glory of that fateful wood.

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